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Where and How to Find Holiday Tacky Lights

house with Christmas lights
Allianz - house with Christmas lights

250 strands of light…
100 individual bulbs per stand…
For a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights

If the above quote looks familiar, it should. Those words were famously spoken by Chevy Chase character Clark W. Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” after he stapled the last strand to his roof and before he took out the Chicago power grid.

While the Griswold home isn’t the first house featuring thousands of twinkling and tacky lights, it may be the most famous.

When the art of placing a wreath here and some candles there evolved into elaborate displays requiring surge protectors and sunglasses at night, visiting holiday illumination creations became more than an in-town getaway. The tacky lights tour phenomenon and other glowing seasonal attractions are now drawing tourists from faraway destinations.

"People travel from around the country to see the lights in Richmond, Virginia," said Matt Burgess, owner and operator of, which promotes homes decked out with at least 10,000 lights in more than 500 cities around the world. "I have heard the same for certain areas in California, Arizona and Florida."

The Tacky Light Tour tradition, where folk cram in cars, buses and trolleys to drive to the homes with the most impressive light displays, is believed to have started within a pair of Richmond homes in the ‘70s. Fast forward to 1992, when a daily newspaper began printing the addresses of the homes boasting the most twinkle and biggest electrical bills. [1]

In the following decades, the tradition of wrapping homes in lights has grown in popularity not just in Central Virginia, but everywhere. "Every year since we launched the website, we've seen 25 percent growth in the number of decorators as well as the amount of people interested in finding them," Burgess said. "Some of that may be due to the concept of a 'Tacky Light Tour' spreading across the country and around the world, but I also think more and more people are decorating."

Here is a look at some of the most popular destinations for taking in holiday lights, and in particular, tacky lights tours. We’ll also provide some tips for viewing and displaying lights.

Best Places to See Tacky Lights

Every neighborhood has "that house," the one that you can see from several blocks away and barely drive by because of the traffic jam of onlookers. Several thousand lights, some glowing reindeer and perhaps even some holiday music blasting from a garage speaker. Likewise, most towns and cities have a tree or some other classic holiday display that draws crowds. These days, zoos – including Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo – and gardens are also turning on the holiday lights displays after dark.

But if catching the sights with the best lights figures into your holiday travel plans, you want to seek out those areas that cluster the attractions best. That’s especially true when you consider you may have to travel at night in strange surroundings.

Here are a few famous destinations for tacky lights and other illuminated holiday attractions:

  • New York City: The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is one of the most recognizable holiday symbols, lights and all. Tens of thousands will be watch the lighting of the tree live – with hundreds of millions tuning in on TV. The tree is usually on display through the first week of the New Year. The American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Holiday Tree, boasting more than 1,000 bulbs and folded paper decorations, is also a top Big Apple sight to see [2]. Also, be sure to sneak in a visit to Radio City Music Hall for a showing of the annual “Christmas Spectacular,” complete with the world-famous Rockettes.[3]
  • Vienna, Austria: Few places feel like the holidays every day of the year. Vienna is one of them. This isn’t the place for animatronic light-up decorations or pyrotechnic displays, but rather a spot to embrace tradition. Look for candles, garlands of bulbs, silk ribbons and pine branches to dot streets and shops, with daily concerts filling the air during the advent season.
  • St. Augustine, Florida: The oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States features Nights of Lights, where two-million-plus lights adorn a 144-square-block historic district from mid-November through January each year. You can’t miss it. [4]
  • Richmond: We already talked about how the River City originated idea of tacky lights tours. One of the top spots for tours is the home of Frank "Mr. Christmas" Hudak, who decorates his home with more than four miles of holiday wiring, including 70,000 light and 40,000 watts of power. [5] Further cementing Richmond’s reputation as the tacky lights was it being featured in a 2006 episode of “Crazy Christmas Lights” on The Learning Channel.

How to View and Display Tacky Lights

It's no secret that the most convenient way to take in the tacky lights is aboard a tour bus or even a trolley, depending on the weather. Limos, vans and town cars also work. There is the obvious rationale in that you don’t need to drive or even navigate to the homes boasting the best light shows. But there is also the added benefit that many drivers have worked out special relationships with some of the homes. This may allow closer access and even a chance to talk with the homeowners to learn how (and why) they spent four weekends stapling 50,000 twinkling bulbs to their roofs.

If you're one of the homeowners who has answered the call to turn your home into a glowing, energy-consuming tourist attraction for the season, then there is some good news. Technology has allowed these dazzling displayed to be presented in a more cost-effective manner.

"The conversion to LED is still in full swing as the huge electric bills homeowners have produced with incandescent lights have made LED affordable,"'s Burgess said. "Plus, with big displays LED allows for more strands per outlet whereas old technology allowed for up to only three."

It's borderline shop talk for those who simply love to watch the lights, and not put together displays themselves.

So when you step out of your house during the holiday season, keep in mind that the brightest object in your sight may not be the Christmas Star. It could very well be a lit-up plastic gingerbread man ascending your neighbor’s roof – and a half-mile trail of headlights from curious tacky lights onlookers.

And if it's just too bright to sleep, you can blame Richmond. Or Clark Griswold.

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